Experience-based learning as a method for a better understanding of intercultural concepts

Analyzing the suitability of the “Mianzi Simulation”

Essay, 2013

21 Seiten, Note: 1,7



Table of contents

List of tables

1 Introduction to the research topic and paper

2 Theoretical framework of the study
2.1 Clarification of important terms
2.2 Characteristics of experience-based learning
2.3 The “Mianzi Simulation”

3 Derivation of research hypotheses

4 Analysis of the “Mianzi Simulation” as an example for experience-based learning

5 Conclusion and discussion

List of references


List of tables

Table 1 Role description for the participants of the German and the Chinese group.

Table 2 Reflection Questions

1 Introduction to the research topic and paper

The special role of China in the globalization process as a trading partner for the western world can be best observed in the increasing number of business trips from foreign business persons to China. It reached the total amount of more than 6.3 million trips in 2011 (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2012). All these employees need to be prepared to be able to deal with the characteristics of Chinese business which result from different concepts of thinking in the Chinese and western culture. Crucial incidents can happen, if the preparation process is not taken seriously

In order to avoid unpleasant situations, business people mostly get prepared with the use of intercultural trainings to learn about the common concepts that influence thinking and actions in foreign cultures. One of the most important concepts coming from the Chinese culture is called “Mianzi (面子)” and means “to give and lose face”. In order to increase the understanding for this concept, experience-based learning methods can be used. The “Mianzi Simulation” is supposed to be one representative of these methods and was developed by students in a master course at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. The aim of this paper is to investigate on the success of the “Mianzi Simulation” as well as its suitability into the experience-based learning approach. Furthermore, its possible practical relevance for the future in intercultural trainings is examined. Therefore, the following research question will be discussed during this paper: Does the “Mianzi Simulation” facilitate the understanding of the concept of face for participants of intercultural trainings?

To answer this research question, first the most important terms concerning experience-based learning and the concept of Mianzi will be clarified. Then, the concept and requirements of experience-based learning are examined. This part is followed by the description of the recently designed “Mianzi Simulation” and the derivation of research hypotheses. In the main part of this paper, it will be investigated, if the “Mianzi Simulation” fulfills the characteristics of experience-based learning and is therefore a suitable instrument to be used in intercultural trainings to ensure a better understanding of the concept of face. Finally, the “Mianzi Simulation” will be critically assessed and an outlook for future research will be given.

2 Theoretical framework of the study

2.1 Clarification of important terms

In the following, an explanation of the terms and concepts used in this paper is given. First, the concept of face is examined. Afterwards, experience-based learning is explained.

Mianzi, or the face of a person, is defined as “the respectability and/or deference which a person can claim for himself from others, by virtue of the relative position he occupies in his social network and the degree to which he is judged to have functioned adequately in that position as well as acceptably in his general conduct.” (Ho, 1976, p. 883). This means that how big ones own Mianzi is depends on the own social status and varies according to the social situation of a person. It includes as well own actions and the behavior of people closely related to the person. The social group involved in these situations makes a judgment on the Mianzi of the other person, based on the own expectations they have towards him or her and if these are fulfilled. If one person is not able to act according to the expectations which are set for him or her, the face of the person is lost. Mianzi can, for example, be expressed through respect towards another party. Another party involved can make the person lose the face by treating him or her disrespectfully. (Ho, 1976, pp. 867, 883) Contrarily, face can be gained by extraordinary achievements or being treated respectfully by others. The concept of Mianzi originated in the Chinese culture. Still, it is not a unique concept in the Asian world, but can be observed in other cultures. Almost everywhere in the world, the public image of a person as well as its expression in his or her actions, are observed by the other group members. The difference between countries is the content of face. This means that the perception of what is respectful differs and actions are evaluated in a distinct way. (Brown, Levinson, 1987, pp. 61-62) Especially in a business context, treating the counterpart respectfully is essential for success. Therefore, the concept of Mianzi, nowadays, is very relevant in the field of international business negotiations and interactions.

The focus of this paper does not lie on illustrating the concept of Mianzi itself, but on evaluating if the “Mianzi Simulation” using the methodology of experience-based learning, helps to understand this concept better.

Thus, the second relevant term for this research paper is the concept of experience-based learning. Until the late 1960s, a traditional way of teaching was used. This means that knowledge was given from one to another person by explaining theoretically what a topic is about. This approach leads to a number of challenges and limitations, like the belief that learning can only happen if one person teaches another one. (Andresen, Boud, Cohen, 2000, p. 1; Ruben, 1999, pp. 498-500) In the late 1960s, a paradigm change took place and models rarely used before, like case studies, role-plays, simulations and games were introduced in the learning process. The goal of all these methods is that the participants can “learn both content and thinking strategies”. Often, the given task is to solve a fictitious problem which helps the people to acquire problem-solving experience additionally. (Hmelo-Silver, 2004, p. 235) Nowadays, it is recognized that a learning processes is also possible trough experiences and self-learning. Moreover, the success of learning can only be evaluated in real-life situations by putting the acquired knowledge into action. This means, that there might be the need to learn actively in real-life situations. The new approach overcomes the thinking that one only can learn what the teacher knows and transfers. In the experience-based learning concept, people are confronted with challenges and own emotions which can go beyond the ones of the teacher. As these experiences are being discussed in a reflection, experience-based learning is a more active and flexible concept which generally is less boring for participants than the traditional way of teaching. Therefore, the relevance of experience-based learning has increased significantly in the last years. (Andresen, Boud, Cohen, 2000, p. 1; Ruben, 1999, pp. 498-500)

2.2 Characteristics of experience-based learning

For the subsequent analysis on the “Mianzi Simulation” as a representative of experience-based learning, in the following, the characteristics of this concept are described. These serve as a basis for categorizing learning methods into experience-based and other types. Attributes which implicitly have to be considered when designing a simulation based on the methodological paradigms of experience-based learning, and characteristics, which explicitly build a framework for such learning games, can be distinguished.

Explicit characteristics:

- Experience-based learning activities are designed in a structured way, such as, for example simulations, games, role play, and group discussions are. (Andresen, Boud, Cohen, 2000, p. 2)
- Problems or fictitious situations used have to fulfill certain requirements. The most important criterion is to be ill-structured, which means that it is complicated to solve. This leads to a difficult solution process and helps the participants so search for own approaches and to practice flexible thinking. Moreover, the given situations have to be realistic and taken from real-world examples, but appropriate for the level of education and experience of the participants. An authentic task motivates the players and prepares them for the real environment they will be confronted with after the simulation. (Hmelo-Silver, 2004, p. 244; Savery, 2006, pp. 13-14; Savery, Duffy, 2001, pp. 3-5)
- Facilitation is a key element of experience-based learning methods. One person acts rather as a facilitator than as a teacher. He or she is responsible for leading the group and involving all participants in order to ensure the compliance with the rules and to establish active and constructive learning and thinking strategies. The focus lies more on caring about how the involved people learn, not what the content is about. Therefore, the facilitator does not have to be proficient in the topic. Normally, one of the tasks of the facilitator is to ask the right questions during the reflection after the game to engage every player and to lead the discussion to the desired direction. (Andresen, Boud, Cohen, 2000, p. 2; Hmelo-Silver, 2004, p. 245)
- The above mentioned reflection takes place after finishing the role-play, simulation or other learning game. It probably is the most crucial part of an experience-based learning, because it serves to assess the learning outcomes and consequently gives insights, if the desired learning was transferred. This step enables the participants to reflect on what happened, what went well and how they can improve their future actions in similar situations. The thoughts which arise after the active part of these learning methods have to be channeled and discussed. During the discourse, the facilitator plays the important role to support, but also challenge the outcomes. In this exchange of thoughts, the participants reflect on what they have learned. (Andresen, Boud, Cohen, 2000, p. 2; Hmelo-Silver, 2004, p. 247; Savery, 2006, p. 1; Savery, Duffy, 2001, p. 5)

Implicit characteristics:

- Learning processes have to focus on different levels of learning. Some people, for example, prefer to touch things and experience them like this. Others like to listen to explanations. Consequently, all senses have to be reaches if every learning type should be addressed. Additionally, feelings are involved in the learning process. Normally, they occur in affective reactions to situations. Furthermore, the intellect of a person plays an important role. It is used if the learner has to anticipate his previous experiences or own values for the next move in the game.
- Not only the experiences made during this learning game are relevant for the perception of the situation and environment, but also previous experiences have an influence on the outcomes. As a result, the background the learner has is a relevant aspect to consider.
- The facilitators in, for example, role plays or simulation do not only have to commit to the statements mentioned above, but also need a special talent to express “ethical stance” towards the learners. This includes treating the participants with respect, to value their comments and experiences, to trust them and to be open-minded. They have to feel comfortable in the situation and, therefore, with the trainer who guides them. He or she has to challenge and, at the same time, support the ideas of the learner to reach his or her full learning potential.
- One challenge in most experience-based learning groups is the diversity of participants. It can be observed in the way the people tackle difficulties and in their will and effort to overcome them. Frequently, in big groups, some players will not engage as much as others, because the topic does not attract their attention. The design of the learning method has to be adopted consequently. (Andresen, Boud, Cohen, 2000, p. 3)

2.3 The “Mianzi Simulation”

As the concept of face maybe understood easily on a theoretical basis, the question which arises is how to let people experience what this concept really means and how it feels to be confronted with situations, where face is gained or lost. Therefore, the “Mianzi Simulation” was created. Its goals and process steps are explained in this section.

The intention behind the “Mianzi Simulation” was to create an interesting learning process for participants of a master seminar at the university of Erlangen-Nürnberg. The goal is to make the learning interactive and start a reflection process for the participants in which they could critically analyze their actions. Moreover, the simulation should underline the importance of Mianzi and the way it influences one´s thinking and behavior, and, especially, what this means for negotiations and business activities. As a result, the relevance of Mianzi in a business context should be understood.

The concrete outcomes, the participants should realize after the “Mianzi Simulation”, are:

- Mianzi has a crucial role in the business negotiation process.
- Mianzi is implicit knowledge and, thus, not easily observable for foreigners.
- Missing knowledge about the other culture´s Mianzi leads to a missing understanding of the actions of the other party. This causes negative feelings on both sides.
- Missing knowledge about the Mianzi of another culture can cause huge communication problems and lead to difficulties or even a failure of business negotiation.
- To get to know and respect the other culture´s Mianzi helps to successfully manage international business deals.

Therefore, the design of the simulation has to be adequate to achieve the above named intentions. This simulation was derived from previous experiences of the author in the field of planning and facilitating workshops and simulations to prepare students in a general manner for a stay abroad. The content had to be adapted to the concept of Mianzi. Additionally, the group composition of around 40 people from different countries had to be considered. All of the participants were master students, but with a different amount of international experience or time spent in China. Some of the participants even had a Chinese origin. Also, the time slot for the simulation was limited to 45 minutes, including preparation, simulation and discussion about the experiences. Taking all these challenges into account, the following process was created:

1) Preparation:

All participants are assigned the role of either being Chinese or German business people. The group is split into half Chinese and half Germans. In the best case, if the real nationality is Chinese or German, the people are put into the groups accordingly. Students who do not want to be part of the simulation could be silent observers. Every participant gets a paper where they can read the different characteristics according to the nationalities they were given. The instructions which are handed out can be found in Table 1. These characteristics tell the participants how to behave during the simulation. After seven minutes of separate preparation and getting into the role, the learners give back the task papers and get a small flag to put it on their clothes in order to be easily recognized as a Chinese or German.

2) Simulation:

During the ten-minutes-long simulation, Chinese and Germans meet and try to do business. Only people from different countries can do business. Therefore, no Chinese can meet a Chinese and no German can negotiate with another German. If one business partner misbehaves in the eyes of the business person from the different country, he or she is just leaving the conversation. Every party can then find another potential business partner. In a group of about 40 people, there is the possibility that every Chinese can meet every German within the time frame and without talking to anybody twice. During the whole simulation, the participants have to behave according to the rules given during preparation time.

3) Conclusion:

After the simulation, either the discussion and debriefing can start directly, or, as in the sample case, the participants are asked to write down their experiences directly after the simulation. These are discussed later in the seminar after providing some theoretical knowledge. In any case, the participants should reflect on the guiding questions listed in Table 2. During the reflection time, the above listed desired outcomes should be reached.

One facilitator took the responsibility to lead the participants through the simulation and to explain as well as to enforce the rules. It was also the role of the facilitator to ask the reflection questions and guide the discussion after the active part in the simulation.

3 Derivation of research hypotheses

Under consideration of the above explained theoretical background, three research hypotheses are derived to answer the following research question: Does the “Mianzi Simulation” facilitate the understanding of the concept of face for participants of intercultural trainings?

One basic assumption of this research paper is that the use of experience-based learning facilitates the understanding of theoretical approaches. Therefore, to answer the research question, it is investigated, if the “Mianzi Simulation” fits into the experience-based learning concept. The first issue to be examine is, if the “Mianzi Simulations is designed in a way to meet all required characteristics to be put into the category of learning based on experiences. Consequently, the first two hypotheses refer to the attributes of experience-based learning:

- The “Mianzi Simulation” is built within the explicit framework for the design of experience-based learning methods.
- The content of the “Mianzi Simulation” implicitly fulfills the characteristics of experience-based learning principles.
The third hypothesis focuses on the outcome of the simulation which was tested once in a university course for master students at the university of Erlangen-Nürnberg. It is to be analyzed whether the aims, defined before testing the simulation, are reached. As the above named desired outcomes cannot be transferred theoretically, the simulation is constructed in an experience-based learning approach, if all wished learning points are reached. The third hypothesis states the following: The “Mianzi Simulation” reaches the desired learning points for the participants which are possible from an experience-based learning perspective.

4 Analysis of the “Mianzi Simulation” as an example for experience-based learning

The following analysis of the “Mianzi Simulation” is derived from the assumption that experience-based methods used in intercultural trainings improve the understanding for intercultural concepts. As a result, it will be investigated here, if the designed simulation fulfills the criteria to be an experience-based learning method. Consequently, it can be concluded afterwards, if the “Mianzi Simulation” leads to a better understanding of the concept of face. First, the relationship of the “Mianzi Simulation” and the explicit characteristics is analyzed. This investigation is followed by examining if the designed simulation is suitable from the perspective of implicit attributes of experience-based learning.

It can be said clearly that the “Mianzi Simulation” follows a straight three-step process and is, thus, precisely structured. All process steps additionally have several sub-tasks which are also arranged in an organized way and communicated accordingly. The second characteristic to be analyzed is whether the constructed situation or problem fulfills all requirements of experience-based learning. During the meetings of fictitious German or Chinese with different characteristics, many problems can arise. To overcome these disliked situations, the participants will search for own solutions and with this foster their personal skills in problem solving. Additionally, the behaviors which are rules for the German and the Chinese group may be overdrawing the real actions of people from China or Germany. Not all Chinese act in the way which in stated on the task paper, but still there is a true basis where the attributes for the two groups were derived from. Anyway, the choice of the Chinese and German countries as a sample for cultural clashes which may happen when representatives of the two societies meet is a real-world problem and important for the students to learn. As most of the learners plan to work internationally, situations like in the “Mianzi Simulation” can arise during their future working life. This ill-structured and realistic problem design increases the motivation of the players to actively participate. As a result, the second explicit criterion for being an experience-based learning method is fulfilled. Concerning the facilitation criterion, it can be said that it plays an important role in the “Mianzi Simulation”. There is person instructing the participants what to do, caring about keeping the time and reinforcing the rules. Additionally, he or she facilitates the reflection process after the simulation by asking the questions listed in Table 2. Furthermore, the reflection is lead towards the before designed objectives by the facilitator. As a last explicit characteristic, the reflection process has to be analyzed. The reflection questions asked are clearly aligned with the purpose of this process step, which is, to reflect on what happened, what the results of different actions were, what did or did not go well and how the own behavior could be improved for the future. Due to the fact that all four attributes of experience-based learning with refer to the explicit design and process of the simulation, are met, the first hypothesis - “the “Mianzi Simulation” is built within the explicit framework for the design of experience-based learning methods” - is accepted.


Ende der Leseprobe aus 21 Seiten


Experience-based learning as a method for a better understanding of intercultural concepts
Analyzing the suitability of the “Mianzi Simulation”
Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg  (International Management)
Advanced Intercultural Communication and Negotiation Skills
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
500 KB
experience-based, analyzing, mianzi, simulation”
Arbeit zitieren
Anonym, 2013, Experience-based learning as a method for a better understanding of intercultural concepts, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/280682


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